Trade on the Forefront: US Chamber President Chats with USTR
The business community stands ready to do everything in its power to help the Obama Administration successfully pursue an aggressive trade agenda, according to U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue.
That includes helping the underfunded Office of the U.S. Trade Representative—which negotiates and enforces U.S. trade deals around the world—raise operating funds. “I would suggest a public-private partnership, and you and me could go on the road and get some money, but I don’t think that would be well-received in some circles,” Donohue joked with new U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman during a packed event at the U.S. Chamber’s headquarters. (Watch the webcast of the event).
“USTR is a terrific organization, with the best people, and we will work our hardest to achieve the priorities that have been set out with whatever resources we have,” Froman told the audience at the Chamber’s annual “Next Steps for the American Trade Agenda” event.
Earlier this month, Froman told the House Ways and Means Committee that he was worried about his office’s ability to do its job under such financial constraints. “At a time of unprecedented levels of activity, sequestration and other budget cuts are compromising USTR's ability to conduct trade negotiations and other market-opening efforts, as well as initiate new enforcement actions.”
During the conversation between the business leader and the trade official, Donohue covered a wide range of issues, including negotiations on trade deals with the European Union and the 12 countries that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks to patent enforcement challenges with India.
On TPP, Donohue pledged to meet with any “government leaders who need more encouragement” on behalf of USTR during the meeting of Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bali, Indonesia, October 1-8.
The two also discussed the inclusion of Japan in the TPP negotiations, which Donohue and Froman agreed was a positive development. “We’re glad they’re in the negotiation. It makes it an even more important platform, with all nations representing 40% of GDP. But we also think it’s important— and we’ve made it clear to them—that through TPP we must address and resolve the long-standing issues around market access, particularly in areas like autos, insurance, and agriculture,” Froman said.
Nevertheless, Froman reiterated his goal of concluding the TPP agreement by the end of this year. “It’s difficult, but doable.”
Froman said USTR is engaging with Congress on the need to renew the president’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which allows the executive branch to negotiate agreements in consultation with Congress. When an agreement is reached, Congress may approve it or reject it with a straight up-or-down vote, but it cannot amend it. “There is a lot of interest in moving TPA in Congress. It’s a critical tool. We’re ready to engage with the relevant committees [House Ways and Means and Senate Finance], we’re ready to provide technical assistance to them. They’re working through their own process, but we’re ready to engage with them to move that forward,” Froman said.
On India, Donohue and Froman said they have both met several times with numerous Indian officials to protest that country's poor protection of intellectual property and its "Buy Indian" policies. Donohue said he gets the sense that the discussions, while frank and generally positive, don’t lead to change. “We find this much different than other places because of the strength of the agreement. Agreements don’t stick.” Donohue warned that the continuous attack on patents, “could have a very negative effect on our relationship with India.”
Another priority for the Chamber and business community is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) covering goods, services, investment, and regulatory cooperation. Eliminating tariffs between the United States and European Union economies would boost bilateral trade by more than $120 billion in five years.
However, one of the biggest issues to overcome, Froman and Donohue agreed, is overcoming regulatory sovereignty. “The key in this agreement is not to just reduce tariffs, and non-tariff barriers, but to go after the regulatory standards. Both markets have high regulatory standards, yet we’ve come to our regulatory standards in slightly different ways. Our goal is not to reduce standards, but eliminate unnecessary differences and frictions,” Froman said, while noting that in many industries, such as autos, pharmaceuticals and chemicals—“industries have come together to get things done.”
The business community can help by educating the public about the positive benefits of trade, Froman finished. “There’s still a big gap in people understanding how trade affects them in a positive way, no matter what industry they are in. We are addressing their concerns about trade, but they need to understand how the future could look in a way that benefits them through trade.”